Copedent Explained

The copedent is the steel guitarist's way of saying "this is how I tune my instrument." It's a diagram showing where the pedals and levers are and what action they take on the strings.

The reason the copedent exists for steel guitar and not other instruments is that, unlike other instruments, there is no standard tuning for the steel guitar. In fact I've read somewhere that there are as many tunings for the steel guitar as there are steel guitarists.

This is both a good and bad thing. The bad news is that learning can be difficult and communicating ideas is confusing. Though I will try to make the lessons herein easy to use regardless of your particular tuning.

The good news is that this versatility means you can develop your own tuning and style, and experiment with things that may have never been tried. I think of the PSG as a sort of "design-your-own" instrument. It feels very rewarding knowing that you created your own tuning setup. Some players keep their copedent as secret as a chef might hide their recipe.


Here's the standard diagram of a copedent:

Copedent Explained

My Copedent

In developing the instructional material for steelguitaracademy.com, I analyzed setups of several pros and amateurs. The open tuning is somewhat uniform among most players (the variation usually occurs in the pedal and lever tunings). There are some who alter the basic open tuning slightly - usually on the 2nd and 9th strings. There is also a handful that changes it beyond recognition of an E9 chord. For this website we will assume the most popular tuning as written below.

I tried to incorporate the most common pedal and lever tunings and locations in my copedent. The less common pedals (I call them LV, RL, and X) were used because they added the most chord voicings and scale positions to the basic tuning assignment.

Don't worry if you don't have all these pedals and levers on your instrument. In every part of this website, I explain how to play the exercises without the pedals.

This is the copedent I use for this website:

Patrick Brenner's Copedent

Names of Pedals and Levers:
A - Raises strings 5 and 10 two semitones
B - Raises strings 3 and 6 one semitone
C - Raises strings 4 and 5 two semitones
X - Lowers strings 3 and 6 one semitone
LL- Raises strings 4 and 8 one semitone
LV - Lowers strings 5 and 10 one semitone
LR - Lowers strings 4 and 8 one semitone
RL - Raises strings 1 and 7 one semitone
RR - Lowers strings 2 two semitones and string 9 one semitone

Combinations and Half-stop Feels:
R - The RR lever pushed halfway lowers only string 2 a semitone; string 9 remains unchanged.
ALV - A and LV engaged together raises strings 5 and 10 one semitone. It can also be accomplished by pushing the A pedal halfway down.
CLV - C and LV engaged together raises string 4 a full tone and string 5 a semitone.

This tuning arrangement makes the E9 tuning chromatic. At every bar position, every semitone is playable between the lowest and highest pitch notes. This gives the E9 tuning great flexibility. It also makes it difficult to grasp its complex harmonic variety. Simplifying the complexity of the instrument was a primary concern in developing this website.

Pedal and Lever Locations

This is where I have placed the pedals and levers on my instrument:

Location of the Pedals

(The unused pedals at the right are for the C6 neck.)

This picture shows where I have assigned the pedals and levers, though this website can be used even if players assign some of their levers elsewhere on their instrument, by utilizing the "bar copedent" (see below).

Bar Copedent

There is another way to think of the tuning arrangement of a steel guitarist. I developed a "bar position copedent" in order to see what the pedals do in reference to the bar position. This way, I can imagine how many frets to the right or left I would need to move the bar to get the same note as a pedal or lever.

Bar Copedent

Here are the names of the Pedals and Levers again:

A - Raises strings 5 and 10 two semitones
B - Raises strings 3 and 6 one semitone
C - Raises strings 4 and 5 two semitones
X - Lowers strings 3 and 6 one semitone
LL- Raises strings 4 and 8 one semitone
LV - Lowers strings 5 and 10 one semitone
LR - Lowers strings 4 and 8 one semitone
RL - Raises strings 1 and 7 one semitone
RR - Lowers strings 2 two semitones and string 9 one semitone

Combinations and Half-stop Feels:
R - The RR lever pushed halfway lowers only string 2 a semitone; string 9 remains unchanged.
ALV - A and LV engaged together raises strings 5 and 10 one semitone. It can also be accomplished by pushing the A pedal halfway down.
CLV - C and LV engaged together raises string 4 a full tone and string 5 a semitone.

As you can see, the bar copedent tells you exactly what each pedal does relative to the bar position. This creates a mental map of the notes you can acquire as you move the bar along the fret board.

To explain more fully:

The bar position is the center column of the diagram shaded gray. The string numbers are noted in the gray column. Pedal names that raise that string are written to the right (+1/2 raises one semitone; +1 raises one full tone). Pedal names that lower that string are written to the left (-1/2 lowers one semitone; -1 lowers one full tone).

If you are a beginner, you can use this chart to quickly locate which pedals do what. You can then find their locations on the instrument, and use the related instructional material as usual.

It also simplifies exchanging harmonic ideas between two different tunings. For example, advanced players that call the lever that raises strings 4 and 8 “LR”, will easily see that I call the 4th and 8th string raise “LL”. They can make a quick adjustment in their head and continue using the related instructional info as usual. Players can therefore use the website even if their pedal/lever arrangement is different.

The bar copedent can also be used to find notes rapidly. By substituting the actual notes in for the pedal names, you can see the overall tuning structure at each bar position without getting bogged down in which location for each pedal/lever is the best. So if you know the notes at the center bar position, it is easy to see what the new note a pedal or lever will make at that bar position.

For example if the bar is at fret 3, and you know the central notes, the bar copedent will tell you what the relative notes are.

Bar Copedent Fret 3

I call this the "note finder" diagram. Some people might call it a "hopscotch" diagram. In either case, this diagram helps me mentalize where the notes are as I move the bar across the neck.


Here is what the notes at the open position (no bar) look like using the note finder. The bar copedent is placed next to it for reference:

Bar Copedent Open

This open position "note finder" can be used to easily compare one tuning to another.


Examples of Bar Copedents

The following is a collection of open position notes from actual players. Each one is named after the most famous player who uses it. The number of pedals and levers on their instrument is noted at the top right of each diagram below.

I put this list together to see how different a player's copedent really is from someone else's. Of course, assigning a tuning to a different lever or pedal will limit some combinations and create others. But if you want to know the bare bones of their tuning and what actual notes can be reached at each bar position, then these diagrams are helpful. They will also give you an idea of what notes are considered more "valuable" to players, because they have the change present somewhere on their instrument, wherever that may be.

Bar Copedent Examples

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